Odeon Cinema

The Odeon Cinema, on Flat Street, was built between 1955-1956, later becoming the Top Rank Bingo Hall in 1971, and subsequently re-branded as Mecca.

However, the building’s history is strange because the structure we see today is a pale imitation of what was originally intended.

In 1938, Oscar Deutsch, the founder of Odeon Cinemas, set up a subsidiary company called Odeon (Sheffield) Ltd, registered at 39, Temple Row, Birmingham, intending to build an extravagant cinema on land bordering Flat Street and Norfolk Street.

Deutsch employed architects Harold ‘Harry’ Weedon and William Calder Robson to design an Art Deco theatre, making use of the unusual shape of land, incorporating four shops and a three-storey office block.

Harry Weedon was responsible for overseeing the Art Deco designs of Odeon Cinemas in the 1930s, and this artist sketch shows that his know-how was going to be applied in Sheffield.

Back then, it was called an “ultra-modern” design, with neon lighting to illuminate the spectacle at night-time. The tower-like device – known by architects as a fin – was to be the centre of the lighting scheme.

The building itself was designed in the shape of a flat iron, the point of which would form the frontage, with luxurious foyers to accommodate patrons who otherwise would have had to queue in the street.

A biscuit-coloured mottled faience was to be used on the Norfolk Street elevation, while the Flat Street side would be partly built in the same material, and partly in 2inch facing bricks.

A black faience was to have been used to form a base, and green and blue faience bands forming a background to the coloured neon tubes.

Inside there were to be 2,326 high-quality seats of the same design – 1,502 in the stalls, 824 in the circle – all divided into three blocks, the only difference in price being governed by the position of the seat.

In addition, there was to be a ladies’ boudoir, as well as several changing rooms.

Plans were made to install a “scientific scheme of acoustic correction,” ensuring perfect sound reproduction as well as a system of B.T.H. earphones for the deaf.

Work started on the cinema in May 1939, the main steelwork in place by the time war was declared in September. Construction was halted, and a shortage of materials and labour meant that it didn’t recommence until 1955.

By this time, the Rank Organisation owned the Odeon chain, and conscious of costs and changing trends, asked Harry Weedon to liaise with architect Robert Bullivant to create another cinema using the original steelwork and footprint.

The result was modern by 1950s standards, less spectacular than the 1930s design, but has stood the test of time, surviving longer as a bingo hall than it did as a cinema.

But, and we may ponder, what a building it would have been had the original design been built.